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Flamingo Slowed not Stopped

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Last week’s announcement of my newfound cardiac condition elicited such an outpouring of loving support that moved me deeply, and I want to respond to you in community since I can’t do it personally.

I’m wearing my Flamingo hat to remind you that despite last week’s attempt at clarity, some of you are still afraid I’m departing tomorrow. I’m working, playing, clowning and I’m doing it with a chronic illness that my doctor says will be with me for years to come. Last Thursday I spoke to the Arizona Community Health Workers in Tucson, where I planted the seeds for the next ClownTown Healing workshop that’s coming in late October. We spent the weekend with friends and danced our asses off; in a couple weeks, Elaine and I will be in Oregon for our annual Oregon Country Fair family reunion, after which I’m going salmon fishing.

I’m living every day, and I’m going to continue to tell my story as openly in my closing chapters, as I have in the ones that came before. I’m an old storyteller, you are hanging around my fireplace, I welcome you into my circle and I will tell you the story as it unfolds. It will be about my life and not a progress report on my disease, which I am living with and learning from.

Thank you for your outpouring of love which lifted me to stratospheric highs… I felt your presence, could see your faces, remembered the places we’ve been and danced. For the last week I’ve still been floating, you rekindle my dreams that it is possible for people of many tribes and nations to connect in shared humanity.

Your energy was the perfect antidote to my daily dose of global news that features isolation, division, and despair. I’m thinking what a gift it would be if this week (maybe even right now), you write to somebody who has positively impacted you and tell them the difference they’ve made in your life. It changed my life, it’ll change theirs, and like the flap of a single butterflies wings could create the change we dare to imagine in the world… a community of shared loving spirit

I say this for All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyacin.

My Pink Slip

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Dear Friends and Relatives:

This is a difficult Schlagbyte…I am reluctant to share this story because I am afraid you will see me in a different way; but this is the reality of my life and I want to face it openly.

Over the past several months I’ve been getting easily fatigued, and short of breath with only the mildest exertion. I’ve had high blood pressure for years but controlled and closely followed, but now my heart beat is irregular. Thorough diagnostic evaluation including biopsies, reveal my heart is working harder because of a rare disease called Cardiac Amyloidosis. My heart muscle is slowly being replaced by the buildup of an abnormal protein called Amyloid. This disease comes in several forms, some treatable but not often curable.

My type has been developing over years, shows up in the elderly, and generally continues for years; so, my demise is not imminent and I don’t want you to hear or read this as a farewell letter. I just have a diagnosis; don’t let it create an expectation that I have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I’m living and still have a story to tell, I’m exercising, writing, clowning, and not so short of breath that it’s stopped me from flapping my lips albeit not quite as fast as goose droppings through a slide trombone.

How do I feel? Like I’ve just gotten a pink slip in my pay envelope informing me that there is a termination date for my employment in this life; the reality of what’s happening inside me has changed my world. I treasure my independence and like to believe I have some control of my destiny even though I understand it’s by and large illusory.

My dignity is important to me; debility, immobilization and vegetative states are unacceptable. I want to have some say in how I approach my final chapter, and I’m thinking telling this story may be my most meaningful legacy. Actually, it’s the same story I’ve been telling for years: success in life has nothing to do with what happens to you, but rather the choices you make about how you come to what’s happened; that it’s you who have it not it that has you; and that it’s possible to be healed even if not cured.

So that’s my story and this is how I’m coming to it. I surely want your prayers and blessings but please don’t hover over me, or deluge me with potential cures, because I am in good hands. I’ll keep you informed periodically, meanwhile I’m living my life to the fullest.

I am enormously grateful for the experience of my life and have been so blessed to be surrounded by love, purpose and the opportunity to do my dance. Dance with me, let’s laugh, and celebrate the ridiculous together, while I walk a talk that I’ve shared for years.

Thank you all for being with me….. I say this for all my relations, Mi Takuye Oyacin

 

Going Mad on Memorial Day

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Every day, the leadership of this Nation is intensifying our divided Nation. The unfolding of shocking revelations about the sharing of classified intelligence with Russia, the firing of FBI director James Comey (and potential charges of obstruction of justice), the “G” 7 impasses on trade, our refusal to sign the Paris Climate Accords prioritizing the health of the planet as a goal, all leave me feeling sick and demoralized.   

By refusing to release his income tax returns, or become transparent in relinquishing his business interests, the President is defining our morality. He is telling us that in this Country the difference between right and wrong is determined by what you can get away with.

There are no longer penalties for wrongdoing. Devon Energy was fined for illegally emitting 80 tons of hazardous chemicals that were known carcinogens. The penalty was changed in February after Scott Pruitt became the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, the former Oklahoma Attorney General with close ties to Devon and the Energy Industry, just rolled back Devon’s fine. This decision is being hailed by other energy companies because it provides a template for future environmental noncompliance.

Government officials, lobbyists, and lawyers who once battled every federal regulation in virtually every industry are now running the agencies they once clashed with. The result is a government in organizational chaos, creating an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust that is crippling us.

I am a community psychiatrist and in my professional opinion I think we are going mad. I spent much of my professional life understanding how people survive in rapidly changing cultures. I  discovered that when culture loses its path, when it no longer transmits sustaining values, or provides an ethical path upon which one walks on the earth, then it becomes vulnerable; disconnected from a path of meaning the society becomes despairing, hopeless, addicted, and violent.

Can we save ourselves? Only if we stop making our differences seem so irreconcilable. Congress must find some way to talk to each other, and define some common goals. They must tell us we are still a Nation that prides itself on a belief in equality, justice, freedom, and equal opportunity.

Get involved locally and nationally, write to your legislators and tell them you expect them to set an example and find the thread line that can unite us. And do it today Memorial Day, when we honor our Warriors of every color and creed who died so that we can live the American Dream. We either come together in a community that cares for and respects each other, or we will go mad.

Don’t Forget Your Mother

Monday, May 15th, 2017

On Mother’s Day weekend, I watched my second grandson graduate from the University of Arizona; my mother would have loved to be there. My mother had a fanatical commitment to education “nobody can ever take it away from you” she droned endlessly. She worked as a waitress in NYC luncheonettes to put her children through college and graduate schools. An extraordinary woman who survived the Great Depression and the Holocaust, and never lost her passion and joy for life.

I look down at the sea of graduates trying to single out my grandson who unfortunately wore no distinguishing regalia. He could have picked me out though, decked out in a top hat and a “U of A Bagel” (red/white/and blue) hanging around my neck on which I wrote his name…he saw us.

The graduation speaker was a baby-boomer media entrepreneur, who shared his wisdom about how to succeed in the world. I found myself wondering what Mom would have said about that? Her values and punch lines were great…don’t live with regrets; when in doubt… party; laugh more; life is not all about you; stop taking yourself so seriously; what you acquire is less important than what you leave behind.

Still profound teachings, and the latter a plea is also from the greatest Mother of them all; the Earth Mother who is warning us of the devastation we are leaving behind because we are not taking good care of the place we live. The rapacious plundering of the earth’s resources, the burning of fossil fuels are polluting air and waters. Global warming, desertification, melting ice caps are flooding the land mass.

We are ignoring scientific evidence in an age of “alternative facts”, where every opinion no matter how crackpot, is given equal validity. People believe whatever they want to, and can always find somebody who supports their point of view. Scientific reliability is now just another alternative fact, so scientists nowadays not only must provide the burden of proof, they must march in public to get heard.

Stop voting for public officials that are defunding programs that sustain a healthy planet. I’m just saying, don’t forget your Mother on Mother’s Day because she’ll never forget you.

Time Flies

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

My firstborn daughter’s birthday is two days before mine, it was the most extraordinary birthday present ever). Every year we do a little celebratory thing together… no big hoo-ha, just a little toast, but this year, maybe because it was Easter/Passover week there were lots of people around. With the efficiency of IPhone immediacy, a party started happening Good Friday afternoon and continued through the weekend.

Prosecco at poolside, the sun setting on Camelback Mountain, family and friends some of whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years; time melted away… wasn’t it just yesterday that these women were in college? The openness of the conversation, an unbroken thread of heartfelt intimacy sharing experiences that shaped all our lives. These beautiful, competent, mature women in the height of their power, working, having raised families, sharing their competence and values with the world.

I become aware how fast the time goes by only when I take a break from the ordinary busyness of living; when I take time to remember where I’ve been, who and what I’ve loved, what I want to be doing more, and what I don’t want to be doing anymore. Life goes by like a bolt of lightning; live it that way and enjoy the ride, and feel the love.

I’m 78 years old today and getting older; slowing down for sure but grateful to be actively participating in my life; telling my stories, writing, teaching, clowning. My creativity still bubbles, and I’m still dancing on the edge of what’s possible.

I want to say thank you relatives, friends, my clown family all over the world; thanks for the memories, for your continued loving presence in my life even if we don’t see or speak often, I carry your imprint on the cave walls of my heart where time does not fly by, but dwells forever.

Holy Spring Rituals

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

At the soul level, we are all a tribal people; we like to gather in community to celebrate life in all its manifestations. We create rituals and ceremonies to help tell the stories that sustain us through the good times and bad; they provide the structure that intensify those stories, and make them holy.

I am an ardent ceremonialist and have incorporated lots of rituals and ceremonies into my own spiritual life. Many of them come from my life’s work with Native Americans’, the sacred Sweat Lodge ceremony among them. Ever since the dedication of the traditional sweat lodge grounds at my home 40 years ago, I have prepared myself for the Passover holiday by participating in this Native cleansing/purification/healing ritual; it’s the best way I’ve found to prepare myself to get into the substance of this ancient tale.

The story of the Exodus from Egypt is the defining story of the Jewish people. Every year at this time we are reminded of our enslavement and the path to freedom. We are admonished that we should not just tell the story, but imagine as if we ourselves walked out of Egypt.  To be free of whatever enslaves us (physically or emotionally), we must personally face it… nobody else can do it for us.

In the small, canvas-covered willow lodge, with no more than 15 others, I feel the intensity of the steam billowing off those red-hot lava rocks, and it doesn’t take me long to know that I am walking this journey right now. In the lodge, I can see beyond the darkness and what discomforts me, to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Every culture has its springtime rituals that tell a story about liberation, growth, and rebirth. These holidays create the time and space for us to see beyond the ordinary. Whatever rituals you practice in this annual season of renewal, I hope they open your hearts and minds to free yourself from whatever forces threaten you, and the planet.

Happy Passover, Easter, Solstice…Viva la vida y la Madre Tierra.

Living in Community

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

After being preoccupied for months with the second ClownTown Healing Fest, I promised Elaine, my tolerant wife, a vacation to her destination of choice, which was someplace with warm water, sandy beaches, and not too far away. We settled on Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a two-hour flight from Phoenix to Baja California Sur.

Unlike our usual style, which is to book a couple of nights on arrival, and then move around to the places we want to see; this time I booked a beachside condo for four nights to give ourselves more time to acclimate before we hit the road. The condo was lovely, a heated pool for my morning laps, steps away from the beach, and whatever we wanted to see was at most, a day-trip away, so we decided to stay put.

 It required some adjustments, as much as I like to preach about living and healing in community, I like to live in my own house, away from lots of people. There are hundreds of condos in this complex, inhabited by people from over the world, most here for a short time, but many of whom are retirees who live here all year long. There is a communal culture; people will reach out and engage you, but also respect your privacy; the lounge chairs are yours while you’re in them (don’t reserve them and not use them); be respectful and tolerant of differences.

 Elaine loved it, said she could live here, but I’m not so sure. We are selling our home, but my kids are in town and I’m not ready to move away. However, I did learn I could live in this kind of diverse community… and that swimming with poolside bar refreshments does promote an interactional warmth.

Truth Fairy Conversation Cure

Monday, March 6th, 2017

The second annual CTHF last weekend in Phoenix was another amazing demonstration of healing in community. Clowns mobilized the healing resources in the city, bringing together a diverse group of practitioners all of whom told their stories about how people can get well before they get sick. There were doctors, dentists, nurses, social workers, body workers, and therapists of every description; there were workshops with dancers, yogis, bodyworkers, clowns and drum circles; and expert panels addressing critical healthcare issues.

The Truth Clinic was staffed by “Truth Fairies”, these are healthcare professionals who, on the day before the Fest, participated in a day-long workshop on “clown healing” where they learned how to actively listen and engage with people in a short time. The Truth Fairies talked to people young and old for 15 minutes about any health-related questions they might have or issues they’re facing.

In my clown persona, a 6’6” flamingo ballerina in a tutu, I serve as the barker who brings people in. I ask when was the last time they talked to a healthcare professional for 15” about anything important to them?

In contemporary medicine, doctors don’t spend much time talking, it’s a quick visit with a discussion of symptoms, tests are ordered, a diagnosis is made and usually pills prescribed. This interventional model is encouraged by a pharmaceutical industry who, through direct to consumer advertising have promulgated the fallacy that every ailment and discomfort can be cured with a pill (brand name of course).

Turns out that talking with someone who is knowledgeable, actively listens, and empathic, is always helpful. From ancient shaman to modern surgeons, doctors have always known…to heal people you must talk to them.

The Truth Clinic is a paradigm-shifting demonstration of preventive healthcare delivery. No diagnoses, no pills, just a heartfelt connection with a knowledgeable, empathic listener speaking your truth and hearing another’s truth has a magical quality. The Truth Fairy Conversation Cure provides light on a path once hidden, and it opens doors where there were once walls.

PS If you have any interest in pursuing this subject further, join me in tomorrow’s SchlagChat,

Tuesday March 7th @ 6PM (Phoenix Time): at 6:00 PM

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/139179666

Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll):  +14086380968,139179666# or +16465588656,139179666#

I’m Feeling Better

Monday, February 13th, 2017

I’m feeling better, and it’s not because Trump’s outrageous behavior doesn’t provoke me daily; I’m scared by how he thinks, behaves, and the people he surrounds himself with. I’m feeling better because of the galvanizing energy that’s happening around me. Americans from every walk of life mobilizing, talking to each other, sharing concerns and finding common goals… on the streets, in town halls, school board meetings, courts, and marketplace.

In Phoenix, Arizona, three days after Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven majority Muslim nations from entering the U.S., Mikala Teramoto a high school student, created a Facebook event she called Rally in Solidarity With the Muslim Community. Mikala said she wanted to bring attention to the fact that there is a Muslim community in town, people who are being impacted by this decrees, and we need to pay attention to them. Her effort brought several hundred-people to a Phoenix mosque to show support for, learn about, and connect with the Muslim community.

People are rising and coming together and taking action about what’s important to them, and what kind of a legacy they want to leave behind. What makes America great is the belief in and practice of Democracy founded on the principles of freedom, equality, and with liberty and justice for all.

We are being heard, the HIPPOPOTUS and his cronies are alarmed, they have introduced measures in at least 10 states, to intimidate free speech by criminalizing public gatherings and demonstrations. We must continue to speak and remind our elected officials that it is not only their duty to listen, but to act in finding common ground.

And it all started with women; I want to say thank you to the women of America who, on the following Trump’s inauguration, marched by the hundreds of thousands in Washington D.C . hundreds of thousands more and all over America and the world. They rose up to say they would not be defined by his misogynistic, exploitative, demeaning portrayal of them… It is always the women who remind us that our survival as a species is through them.

As a post-script let me tell you that if you want to feel better come join us in downtown Phoenix for the second ClownTown Healing Fest (clowntownhealingfest.com) and you’ll see a community that comes together in joyful celebration to heal the body mind and spirit.

I say this for All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin.

Come Together America

Monday, January 30th, 2017

I have been trying not to get caught up in the “Trump Derangement Syndrome”, a disorder characterized by railing against every word The Donald utters or action he takes, and it’s been hard. I keep wanting to believe that somehow through the magnitude of the office of POTUS he will become less captivated by his own grandiosity… but it isn’t happening.

After his inaugural address, I was left feeling dark and dismal with his portrayal of an America in decay, it’s politician’s self-serving and out of touch with the people. No longer he said, because from this day forward (and for the first time in our history), the people will become the rulers of their own country, and he would be their voice. How did this privileged kid who studied in private schools, avoided the draft, and is morally bankrupt, become the voice of the people?

The Donald said, he would heal the divisions in this Nation because he knew we were one people united by our love for this country. We are all patriots he said, Americans of every color and creed, we all bleed the same color to protect America. From now on its America first, our interests will determine our policy. We will protect ourselves, we will be safer, it will lead to prosperity, we will win like never before, and America will become great again.

Listening to him, I felt the chill of the bygone days of McCarthyism and the Nazi’s. He disdains the press and if you disagree with what he defines as America’s best interests you know you’ll be labeled un-American. The Donald’s preaching of Isolationism and protectionism has seen a rise in hate groups of every description; he is not bringing us together and our resentment and anger is eating away at our souls as Americans, and leaving us spiritually bereft.

How are we going to bridge the gaps that divide us? How can we come together as a people with common values and goals? By coming together in community, diverse groups talking to each other about our shared interests. It is not deranged to be frightened by a President who is a pathologic narcissist; march in protest, speaking out loudly, write to your legislators that’s what good citizens do. It doesn’t matter if you wear Bermuda shorts or a turban, if you work in fields or high-rise buildings, this nation is built on lots of people from lots of different places coming together to actualize a vision of what can happen in a democracy where freedom of speech, the pursuit of justice and equality are the law of the land.

Let’s continue to tell this story of who we are and what we stand for to the generations still to come, otherwise the fear and hatemongers will redefine what it is to be an American.

Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag, M.D., CPAE is a psychiatrist, author, and professional keynote speaker. He is an authority in the science of psychoneuroimmunology mind, body, spirit medicine and speaks about health and wellness, healing, leadership and authenticity . He has delivered motivational keynote speeches to corporate and business clients around the world.